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From S. Sudan, Lanzer on "Hardening of Media Climate," What of Miraya?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 19 -- The South Sudan visit of the UN Security Council is over; fighting has escalated, in Bentiu and in Ayod, Jonglei State and elsewhere.

  Soldiers celebrated by shooting in the air for half an hour, injuring at least one child in the UN's Bentiu camp. On August 19, acting UNMISS chief Toby Lanzer fielded questions on Twitter for an hour.

  Inner City Press asked what UNMISS is doing about the government having shut down a radio station for reporting about the fighting, as raised over the weekend by the Free UN Coalition for Access.

  Lanzer to his credit replied, ".@innercitypress UN is concerned about forced closure of Bakhita Radio & apparent hardening of media climate in #SouthSudan. #PressFreedom"

   Inner City Press, also on behalf of @FUNCA_info, thanked Lanzer and asked, is the UN's "Radio Miraya uncensored?"

   This question comes amid news of targeted censorship:

"Officials held a meeting recently with Weer Bei FM at which they made it 'very clear' that the station was to report only what was favorable to the government, according to an informed source.The authorities took issue with several reports, including a report that the European Union has added SPLA-Juba faction commander Santino Deng Wol to a list of targeted sanctions that ban him from traveling to European countries and from keeping money in European banks. Authorities did not want this news to be broadcast in the Dinka language, the main language spoken in Northern Bahr al Ghazal, which is the state from which the general hails."

   New UN envoy Ellen Loj accompanied the Security Council's trip, but it is not clear what if anything she has said yet. Of the above, at least one Permanent Representative on the Security Council is aware. But what will the Council do?

  On August 18, the chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, wrote to US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power urging her to propose sanctions in the UN Security Council. We'll have more on this.

  South Sudan's National Security Service has closed Bakhita Radio and arrested journalist Ochan David Nicholas. According to Radio Tamazuj, "Presidential Spokesman Ateny Wek explained that the radio station had failed to report on the fighting yesterday according to the statement given by the army, which said that rebels attacked their positions yesterday. Instead, he alleged, they reported that the army was responsible for the aggression."

  So if one doesn't report "according to the statement given by the army," there is censorship, closure and arrest. What does the UN say about this? (In Somalia, the UN has yet to speak on the raid on Radio Shabelle by the AMISOM force the UN supports, as the Free UN Coalition for Access has raised, here.)

  Back on August 6 after six Nuer aid workers were killed in Maban County, South Sudan, the UN Security Council, as well as Ban Ki-moon and the US State Department, issued statements of outrage.

 The Security Council's statement, issued at 9 pm on August 6, called on "the Government of South Sudan to immediately take steps to ensure the safety of all civilians, to swiftly investigate these incidents, and to effectively bring the perpetrators of these heinous acts to justice, and to fully respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law."

  Meanwhile South Sudan president Salva Kiir was in Washington at the US' Africa Summit. At the Security Council Inner City Press asked Council president Mark Lyall Grant if the Council will meet Riek Machar during its now disclosed trip to South Sudan and the region. Lyall Grant said both sides will be talked to, but did not want to give details.

  Nor did the UN. When Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq to confirm that the aid workers needed to be evacuated were all Nuer, Haq refused. Who does this serve?

Hilde Johnson has left left as UN envoy to South Sudan. On June 30 when Johnson gave her last UN press briefing on June 30, Inner City Press asked her who used cluster bombs in this stage of the conflict, and about having in 2012 told Inner City Press that militia leader Peter Gadet leading “disarmament” was OK. Gadet is now under US sanctions.

  Johnson dodged on the cluster bombs, that UN Peacekeeping's UNMAS had made a report “to New York” -- still confidential -- and that she couldn't go beyond what UNMAS has said publicly: nothing.

  UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous routinely refuses Press questions and refuses to provide the most basic answers, such as about flying sanctioned FDLR leader Rumuli in the DR Congo. It seems to have spread to Hilde Johnson, even as she leaves.

  On Gadet, Johnson recounted that he was a militia leader brought in by Salva Kiir's “Big Tent” strategy, which she said was “unavoidable” and brought peace. Well, it didn't bring peace: was it unavoidable? Doesn't the UN usually pretend to speak for accountability? Or not any more, under Ladsous?

Inner City Press had hand raised to ask another question, about press freedom. But Ban Ki-moon's spokesman gave some media but not other a second round. For this reason, setting aside the first question to UNCA, in this case Pamela Falk, is UNacceptable. When all questions can't be asked, no one should automatically get the first question. Will it even be reported on? Watch this site.


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